Today, on the 1st of June 2004, one thing happened that we had long been waiting for. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. released its new family of Athlon 64 processors, equipped with a dual-channel memory controller. This event is also accompanied with the transition of the Athlon 64 to the new processor socket, called Socket 939, which seems to have the potential of becoming a “stable platform” and live a long life as a solution for high-performance and mainstream computer systems. The rejuvenated Athlon 64 has acquired much more appeal to the end-user. On the other hand, the arrival of Socket 939 processors doesn’t necessarily mean that the currently-available mainboards for this platform are equipped by the latest fashion in technology. For instance, the AMD admirers won’t have a chance of using expansion cards with the new PCI Express interface which will show up after June 21, in response to Intel’s proposed launch of new chipsets with support of this bus. This fact means that the Athlon 64 platform is not yet rock-solid, but is rather still evolving.
There are precedents in the past – CPU architectures live and die. First, every processor grows through its childhood, being polished off and perfected. Then, it matures and the platform develops confidently, but the lifecycle anyway ends with a fade-out period when the manufacturer tries to squeeze the last juices out of the obsolete architecture. For example, Intel’s Pentium 4 architecture had its child years in the Willamette core and in Socket 423; it matured in the 0.13-micron Northwood core. Today, this architecture seems to be declining as there appear various senile diseases and it is harder to push the performance bar further.
This “law of CPU evolution” may be equally applied to the Athlon 64. AMD has been adjusting the architecture “while running”, and this is an obvious indication of the Athlon 64’s having been in its infancy up till now. Just consider: in the short period since the launch of the first models of this family (i.e. since September 2003), the Athlon 64 used two different sockets, Socket 940 and Socket 754, and two different cores, ClawHammer and NewCastle, and these two cores went through several steppings. In other words, AMD has been trying to make up its mind as to the most profitable and competitive configuration of the Athlon 64, improving the tech process on the way to reduce the manufacturing costs. Today, we have a hope that this kindergarten is over. The new processors of the Athlon 64 series use the new Socket 939, which is going to have a long lifecycle, and the processors themselves have obtained definite properties which, I hope, will be implemented in CPUs to follow. At least, I hope the Socket 939 platform won’t repeat the fate of the Socket 754 one and live a little bit longer.
Right now, AMD ships three new processors for the new socket: two models of the Athlon 64 family with 3500+ and 3800+ ratings and the Athlon 64 FX-53 targeted at extreme gamers. Today, the company also released the Athlon 64 3700+ for older Socket 754 systems. In this article we will examine the new Socket 939 processors of the Athlon 64 family in more detail. The other newcomers will be covered in our upcoming reviews.